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Peanuts Specials DVDs Reviewed:Peanuts 1960's Collection Peanuts 1970's Collection, Vol. 1 Peanuts 1970's Collection, Vol. 2
Peanuts Deluxe Holiday Collection (It's the Great Pumpkin / A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving / A Charlie Brown Christmas)
It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown
You're a Good Sport, Charlie Brown I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown

Peanuts 1960s Collection DVD Review

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Writer/Creator: Charles M. Schulz

Director: Bill Melendez / Producers: Lee Mendelson, Bill Melendez / Original Score: Vince Guaraldi

Voice Cast: Peter Robbins (Charlie Brown), Chris Shea (Linus), Sally Dryer (Lucy, Violet, others), Cathy Steinberg (Sally), Bill Melendez (Snoopy), Gail DeFaria (Peppermint Patty, Pigpen, Shermy, Umpire), Ann Altieri (Frieda, Violet), Tracy Stafford (Lucy), Pamelyn Ferdin (Lucy), Glenn Gilger (Linus), Hilary Momberger (Sally), Christopher DeFaria (Peppermint Patty), Geoffrey Ornstein (Pig-Pen), Glenn Mendelson (Schroeder, Shermy), Chris Doran (Schroeder, Shermy), Karen Mendelson (Patty, Violet), David Carey (Shermy), John Daschback (Schroeder)

Features:
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), Charlie Brown's All Stars (1966),
It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966), You're in Love, Charlie Brown (1967),
He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown (1968), It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown (1969)


Running Time: 188 Minutes (151 - specials, 37 - bonus) / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Aspect Ratio)
Dolby Digital Mono 1.0 (English, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish) (2.0 on Great Pumpkin)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, Thai
Not Closed Captioned; Featurette Subtitled in Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Thai
DVD Release Date: July 7, 2009 / Suggested Retail Price: $29.98
Two single-sided, single-layered discs (DVD-5s) / Clear Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Box

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When Warner Home Video acquired the Peanuts animation library in October 2007, the studio inherited a wealth of content, most notably about 50 specials created for TV and video. Two of those specials (A Charlie Brown Christmas, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown) have long been guaranteed to gain notice in any setting. Others (like Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving) would also attract attention with appropriate timing and marketing.
Still others may have been familiar by subject matter if not title (the school election tale, the motocross race) and with a push would find an audience based on the brand. But the majority of Peanuts cartoons fall outside these three classes. For the most part, such works are known only by the most devoted fans of Charles Schulz's witty characters, who officially originated in the popular comic strip that ran from 1950 to Schulz's 2000 death.

Since starting in January 2008, Warner has worked its way through much of those first three classes, rolling out sleek, uniform discs of 2 half-hour Peanuts shorts, often timed to holidays and not straying too far from the line-ups that cautious previous distributor Paramount had decided upon. To date, Warner's eight Remastered Deluxe Edition DVDs have made seventeen Peanuts cartoons available. Carrying a list price of $19.99, each of those DVDs has boasted a distinctively-colored embossed cardboard sleeve and a unique brand-new making-of featurette.

Now, Warner appears to throw Peanuts fans a curveball with next week's release, Peanuts 1960's Collection, a 2-disc set holding the six specials that aired during the gang's first decade on television.

Charlie Brown opens up about his holiday depression to his blanket-toting best friend Linus in one of the first shots from the first animated Peanuts special, "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Snoopy helps Charlie Brown with his autumn raking by blowing a single leaf onto his owner's big pile of fall leaves in "It's the Great Pumpkin."

That influential half-dozen includes the two most famous seasonal specials, the enduring (#1) A Charlie Brown Christmas and (#3) It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. They were among the first Peanuts DVD titles released, being made available separately and together with Thanksgiving in a 3-disc set both by Paramount in 2000 and by Warner last fall. Made in between them was 1966's Charlie Brown's All Stars!, which Paramount included as a bonus on the 2004 DVD of modern short Lucy Must Be Traded, Charlie Brown but Warner has yet to revisit.

The fourth Peanuts special, 1967's You're in Love, Charlie Brown has sensibly accompanied Be My Valentine on DVDs from both studios. Numbers 5 (He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown) and 6 (It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown) have never before been released to DVD in North America. They haven't been available in stores since their separate mid-1990s "Snoopy Double Features" videocassettes went out of print.

For hardcore Peanuts fans, the DVD debuts and returns of unavailable cartoons is the most exciting thing about Peanuts 1960's Collection. For fans who have either been awaiting something bigger or simply oblivious to the handful of Warner DVDs issued over the past eighteen months, this new collection would seem to be a source of excitement and celebration. Three times as many specials as the single-disc releases and selling for just $5 more than one of them? Alas, there is a catch, one which some would deem small but which also may make double-dipping inevitable for collectors and discourage unloading twice-bought shorts. This snag is covered in the Bonus Features section below, where it belongs.

Lucy's girls and Charlie Brown's boys have different methods of order, as this split-screen shot from "It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown" illustrates. In love Charlie Brown gets surrounded by giant Ha Ha's. These laughs aren't the good "you're so funny" kind, but the bad "let's laugh at that silly blockhead" ones.

I realize I've now written six paragraphs all about different versions, studios, and release strategies without saying a single thing about the animated specials themselves. If that doesn't out me as a huge fan of Schulz's universe, then my five earlier reviews of Warner's Peanuts DVDs already have. But while I confidently assume this article will be of greatest interest to established fans (who may have read my earlier long-winded musings), there must be some readers who simply haven't taken the time to get to know this franchise.
Maybe you've seen the characters in commercials, gotten a chuckle out of their adventures in funny pages, and encountered the onslaught of merchandise that's unavoidable around holidays, but have never managed to catch a short on TV. If that conceivable scenario is true and I'm your unlikely introduction to the animated shorts, then welcome.

Peanuts is set in a world of kids, where adults are mentioned and sometimes partially-seen but rarely heard. And yet, though voiced by children, these kids talk a lot like adults, dealing with similar hopes and fears. Front and center is Charlie Brown, a fairly pleasant, bald-looking boy who is often unlucky in life. Charlie Brown's best friend is Linus van Pelt, who is wise and quotes scripture but also insists on carrying around a ratty blue blanket. Tough by comparison are Lucy, Linus' bossy older sister who gets kicks at the expense of Charlie Brown's flops, and the tomboyish Peppermint Patty.

Also featuring prominently are Charlie's savvy, anthropomorphic but nonverbal beagle Snoopy and Charlie's sweetly demanding younger sister Sally. Rounding out the regulars in these earliest cartoons: piano-playing Beethoven enthusiast Schroeder; the bratty Violet; Frieda, a girl who's proud of her naturally curly hair; and Pigpen, who lives up to his nickname with an aura of dirt clouds.

An air of amusement marks just about every scene from the Peanuts specials. The characters and situations both lend themselves to gentle humor. And yet, Schulz's stories also hit on some profound aspects of childhood that are perhaps best appreciated in looking back. They touch upon insecurities and irrationalities that humans never fully outgrow. The shows drip with charm and invite nostalgia. It's all too easy to relate to Charlie Brown's difficulties, even if chances are you were never emotionally tormented or regularly branded a "blockhead."

For all the strong feelings they stir, these programs are remarkably simple, sometimes feeling just like a modicum of life and movement has been breathed into the panels of a sturdy color newspaper comic strip. It's fairly amazing how many television specials and series were able to utilize the personalities and stylings without any major fatigue or overhaul. This consistency perhaps explains why only a few of the specials truly stand out from the bunch and only when removed from a canon do these become easily appreciated for their excellence.

Joining the beloved Christmas and Halloween specials here are a baseball-centered short, our first romantic pursuit of the unseen little red-haired girl, one episode centering on fanciful fan favorite Snoopy, and one depicting the group's adventures at summer camp.

Though glitz won his dog a ribbon in the lights and display contest, Charlie Brown prefers the simple joys of this pathetic little Christmas tree. Charlie Brown toys with the notion of stealing home plate in "Charlie Brown's All Stars!", the second Peanuts animated special.

Disc 1

A Charlie Brown Christmas (25:25) (First aired December 9, 1965)
Bafflingly depressed by the holiday season, Charlie Brown becomes director of the school Christmas play at Lucy's suggestion. When that doesn't go to plan, it's up to his best friend and one sad little tree to help remind him there's reason for cheer amidst all the commercialism. Though anomalies and shortcuts abound, this must be the most earnest and outstanding half-hour of TV animation (and simply TV, for that matter) I've ever had the pleasure of seeing.

Charlie Brown's All Stars! (25:04) (First aired June 8, 1966)
Manager/pitcher Charlie Brown hopes the arrival of a new baseball season will give him the chance to reverse past failures. When it doesn't, his team bails in favor of skateboarding and inflatable pool fun. The promise of sponsorship from Hennessy's Hardware and genuine little league uniforms lures them back. But when the exclusive rules won't accommodate them, Charlie Brown pins all his hopes back on athletic success. This one is every bit as good as many of the better-known Peanuts specials.

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (25:12) (First aired October 27, 1966)
Charlie Brown and his fellow kids go trick-or-treating and have a Halloween party. Snoopy becomes a World War I Flying Ace exploring the French countryside in his mind. More focal but even less usual, Linus ignores peers' ridicules and spends the night in a pumpkin patch awaiting with skeptical Sally an appearance by the Great Pumpkin in whom he firmly believes.

This is way better than obedience school! Snoopy has Peppermint Patty waiting on him with cold beverages in "He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown." Masked marvel Snoopy puts his skills to the test in a wrist-wrestling (better known as arm wrestling) match with Lucy at the end of "It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown."

Disc 2

You're in Love, Charlie Brown (25:22) (First aired June 12, 1967)
As the school year comes to an end, Charlie Brown can't get the little red-haired girl out of his mind. He tries a number of ways to get her attention, overthinking each one.
Linus, Lucy, and Peppermint Patty all offer their help. Also, valedictorian Sally prepares for her cap-and-gown kindergarten graduation.

He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown (25:05) (First aired February 14, 1968)
All the kids have grown weary of Snoopy's antics, so Charlie Brown decides the dog must return to the farm he came from for some obedience training. Turning what's supposed to be a one-night stop into something longer, Snoopy stays with Peppermint Patty (who still thinks he's just a strange kid) while fantasizing that he's a WWI Flying Ace vacationing in France. The rest of the gang soon misses the dog, who even agrees to pull his weight with household chores to prolong his stay with Patty.

It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown (25:16) (First aired September 27, 1969)
A 500-word English essay assignment prompts everyone to remember how they spent their summer at camp. There, the girls show up the boys in swimming, softball, canoeing, and any other activity they can think of. The one hope for redemption is having masked marvel Snoopy challenge Lucy in a wrist wrestling match.

Linus writes a letter to the Great Pumpkin, the holiday figure that only he seems to believe in. Flying Ace Snoopy reminds Charlie Brown who's in control with a "play dead, then yank the leash" trick.

VIDEO and AUDIO

These specials are presented in their original formats, 1.33:1 fullscreen aspect ratio and monaural sound.
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The three shorts that Warner has earlier released look as they do on their Remastered Deluxe Editions. These aren't quite perfect, but they're very close to it, sometimes differing drastically from Paramount's DVDs in colors and always for the better. Christmas looks great. Great Pumpkin has only a few minor artifacts, most of which are found in its closing sequence. You're in Love also possesses some grain and mild intrusions.

Though I didn't have Paramount's Lucy Must Be Traded DVD for comparison, the vibrant and immaculate All Stars looks terrific here. The two making their format debut are also no slouches in this department. He's Your Dog has some speckles that are most noticeable on dark scenes. But for the most part, its visuals are pleasing, as are those of Short Summer. Both that special and its presentation may be the set's weakest, but their shortcomings are far from glaring. On the whole, these modestly-produced 40-and-up cartoons have been given highly satisfying picture quality from Warner, with dazzlingly clean and colorful appearances and a minimum of inconsistencies and irregularities.

There's hardly anything to say about the Dolby Mono soundtracks. Listen closely and you can hear the challenges of having unseasoned (and sometimes not yet literate) kids record lines for the characters. You can also tell the vocals weren't captured recently. But they're all clearly discernible, and Vince Guaraldi's jazz remains a lively, appropriate accompaniment to them.

Vince Guaraldi, the more musically inclined of the two handlebar-mustachioed men behind the Peanuts cartoons, is the subject of the documentary "The Maestro of Menlo Park", which shows him here in an old black & white photo. Linus and Snoopy claim both discs' Features menu. Here, they await the Great Pumpkin, something they don't actually do together. The iconic Peanuts image of Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown to (not) kick adorns Disc 2's light Special Features menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Bonus features are the one area where this DVD frustrates, not for what it offers, but for what it doesn't. On their standalone Remastered Deluxe Editions and the Holiday Collection that bundled them, Charlie Brown Christmas and It's the Great Pumpkin were equipped with fancy all-new featurettes called "A Christmas Miracle" and "We Need a Blockbuster, Charlie Brown."

Like the others Warner has commissioned, these two 14-16 minute pieces were great, revealing production information with interviews of the specials' creators, Schulz's family, voice actors, and historians.
Sadly, neither has been included here. There was absolutely enough room to keep those without raising the disc count, so clearly Warner has chosen not to undermine those earlier DVDs' "deluxe" claims. If they weren't going to carry those over, then this set should have just stayed at one dual-layered disc; the amount of data used on these DVD-5s (3.62 GB on Disc 1, 4.44 GB on Disc 2) would have just fit on one DVD-9 without any additional compression.

With the bad news out of the way, let's move to the good. This DVD does include one exclusive supplement and it's longer than the missing two put together. "Vince Guaraldi: The Maestro of Menlo Park" (36:56) covers the life and career of the man behind the distinctive jazz of Peanuts specials. In new interviews, we hear from seven former collaborators, Guaraldi's son David, four admirers/musicians (including later Peanuts composer David Benoit), and Peanuts producer/one-time lyricist Lee Mendelson.

Though animated clips are featured throughout, this is primarily a musician documentary. It spends time on Guaraldi's unique piano style, specific compositions, and his pre-Peanuts work, but it's clear by the midway point when Peanuts comes up that it's the centerpiece of his legacy. While I'm not convinced that potential buyers of this set were looking for such a detailed portrait of Guaraldi's short life, this moves quickly and proves to be a satisfying feature. Some apt period-establishing stock footage helps and so does the fact that it's filled top-to-bottom with Guaraldi jazz, much of it familiar from the shows. For reasons that aren't clear, the letterboxed featurette is subtitled in Portuguese, Spanish, Thai, Japanese, but not English or French.

Also listed as a Disc 2 special feature is a 3-minute trailer for You Must Remember This, a Clint Eastwood-narrated documentary that, if accurately advertised, reminds us of all the cinematic triumphs that Warner Bros. has made over the past 85 years.

Disc One opens with a vague teaser for live-action prequel Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins and a promo for the 1960s and 1970s Volume 1 Saturday Morning Cartoons DVDs. Its menu adds ads for Woodstock (the concert documentary, not the yellow bird) and "The Jetsons": Season 2, Volume 1. Disc 2 loads with a preview for "Tiny Toon Adventures": Season 1, Volume 2 and "Freakazoid!": Season 2, followed by one for Snoopy's Reunion: Deluxe Edition.

The understated static menus use character imagery, a flower cursor, and -- on the main screens -- Guaraldi's familiar "Linus and Lucy" theme.

Physically, the 1960's Collection doesn't perfectly match Warner's other Peanuts DVDs, but it comes close with a two-toned spine featuring Snoopy. Its clear keepcase slips sideways into a cardboard box embossed on four of its five sides. The repeated front cover artwork -- Snoopy's doghouse roof adorned with a hippie font -- doesn't seem like the best way to sell the set and the title's unnecessary apostrophe doesn't help (none of the shorts are from 1960). Some redemption is had in the colorful disc art plus the imagery and synopses on the keepcase art's interior. But points are lost for the disc contents lists being erroneous throughout (they mistakenly claim In Love is on Disc 1) and Spanish audio/subtitles being unmentioned.

Upon a happy reunion, Snoopy and Charlie Brown do a happy dance together somehow in the starry night sky. Linus sees Charlie Brown slam his head down on his desk after failing to attract the attention of the Little Red-Haired Girl with some suave pen-sharpening.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Warner puts Peanuts fans into an awkward position with the release of this 1960's Collection DVD. Since it's reasonable to assume devotees already own at least two of the set's shorts (and quite likely with the fine accompaniment of Warner's reissues),
will they choose to repurchase them in order to get the new cartoons and Vince Guaraldi documentary? Had the studio utilized the ample space and included the two relevant featurettes from the standalone releases, this would have earned a no-brainer recommendation. As is, collectors have to decide if chronological compilation means more to them than the well-produced retrospectives. Or, of course, they could choose to buy both, something that isn't too hard to justify on Collection's reasonable price tag.

It should be pointed out that all of these terrific animated specials are well worth seeing and most are worth owning. Those two tasks are now a bit more complicated than they should be, a fact that may give pause to otherwise-interested customers. Nevertheless, the first six classic Peanuts shorts together, with excellent picture/sound, and a worthwhile bonus feature, selling for $20? That's a great deal and one you'd be crazy to ignore.

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Peanuts 1970's Collection, Vol. 1 Peanuts Deluxe Holiday Collection I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown
You're a Good Sport, Charlie Brown You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown
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Reviewed July 3, 2009.



Text copyright 2009 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1965-69 United Feature Syndicate, Inc. and 2009 Warner Home Video. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.